Nearly 500 cities from 36 countries of all continents make up the International Association of Educating Cities (IAEC). An organisation born in 1994 with the aim of highlighting the importance of education in the city. In March 2020, as every year, the member governments of the association were preparing to hold their General Assembly, a meeting in which to make important decisions like the admission of new members or the approval of the Economic Report and the Future Action Plan. This time the event would take place in the city of Tampere, Finland. But a few days before that date, the COVID-19 outbreak started in Europe. And in a short time it became a global pandemic, truncating the planning of innumerable meetings like this one.
The Role of Electronic Voting in the Fight Against COVID-19
The Delegated Presidency of the association was forced to look for an innovative formula to be able to hold the assembly virtually. Electronic voting is over sixty years old. From punch-card systems to online voting and electronic paper voting, there is a huge variety of solutions. And although its use at the State level has a growing development history, it has never been so relevant for medium and small organisations like the IAEC. But, what is the legal framework that applies in these cases? What minimum level of security is required? How is it possible to verify the identity of the members? And, last but not least, are there providers capable of implementing such a system in record time and at an affordable cost?
A Custom e-Voting Platform
At Kuorum we have been helping public and private organisations in seven countries with their electronic voting since 2013. The first step in cases such as the IAEC is to analyze the regulatory framework that applies to them. Based on this, we propose an identity verification system. Authentication consists of several steps that are configurable (single, double, triple and/or biometric factor). And it is about finding a compromise between the minimum recommended security and the comfort for end users when exercising their right to vote.
Once the client has chosen the most appropriate system for their particular case, the customized voting platform – with its URL, logo, colors and images – is ready in less than 24 hours. The system also has email blasts features that make it easy to communicate with voters, sending them their personal keys and voting instructions. And on the same voting screen you can embed the event’s streaming broadcast if the client needs so.
Counter-Clock Work in Different Time Zones
Difficult times call for bold decisions. So IAEC contracted our service just eight days before the assembly. In two days the small modifications required to adapt the system to a vote with different time zones were developed – since the automatic poll opening and closing times had to be synchronized for countries as far away from each other as Korea, Brazil or France. During the weekend, internal tests alongside a live fire test with real users were carried out with people of different ages and nationalities in order to assess the usability of the new process. And in the three days prior to the assembly, voters were informed of the new conditions.
Caring for our Voters and the Planet
Despite the speed with which this first virtual assembly was organised, participation ratios similar to those of face-to-face voting in previous years were obtained. All incidents during the voting process were solved from our call center. And more than half of the voters took advantage of the open response space to congratulate the Presidency on the speedy with which they had put an creative solution in place.
An hour and a half after the poll closing, we sent the IAEC a report in four languages ??with the results of the process, attaching a file with the voting records (logs) and another with the aggregated responses.
It is impossible to extract positive consequences of a black swan with a result as bleak in terms of the cost of human lives as that of this new coronavirus. It would be naive+ to do so. It is an unmitigated misfortune. Only focusing on the case at hand, we can conclude that thanks to the electronic vote, IAEC managed to continue with its work of great social impact despite the crisis, while protecting the health of its members and many others. Furthermore, by holding its assembly electronically, 14 tons of CO2 were saved, as well as 400,000 Euros on flights and more than 12,000 Euros on stays.